June 20, 2016 by Paul Goldsmith
Arriving at Herne Hill Station yesterday on the way to a family event, we were accosted by some campaigners for the Remain campaign in the upcoming EU Referendum. Within seconds of one of them starting to talk to me, a young man came past, stopped, grabbed the arm of the campaigner, made sure he was looking him in the eye and said “let’s do this for Jo”, and walked on. The campaigner looked back at me, and said “that’s about the twentieth time that’s happened today.”
Jo Cox’s assassination could well be a ‘Black swan’ event. This is a term coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to describe the disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology. Taleb acknowledges the non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities) and explains the psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event’s massive role in historical affairs.
Now, there has been a very interesting reaction to this particular Black swan event from the Vote Leave campaign. Whatever you think of the contribution some of their rhetoric might have made to the motivation for Tommy Mair’s alleged actions, their insistence that Cox’s assassination shouldn’t be ‘politicised’ is ridiculous. A politician, carrying out her political duties in her constituency, was killed by a man shouting a political slogan, expanded upon in court when he was asked his name. The Remain campaign don’t need to politicise her death, it was done for them. I am using the word ‘assassination’ for a reason.
But on another level, I have a small amount of sympathy for the Leave campaign. They will have planned high impact campaigning for the final weekend of the campaign. They have had to be extremely careful with the tone of their rhetoric as some will twist what they are saying, relating it again to what seems to have motivated Mair’s alleged actions. Also, the truth is that some people WILL change their vote or decide TO vote as some sort of tribute to Jo Cox. You can see this fear in how the Leave campaign are currently policing everything the Remain campaign say, whether on the Internet or other areas of the media, for signs they are using Cox’s death as a campaigning tool, be it when her final article in the Mail is re-published or re-tweeted or the picture (above) of her family in a boat holding an IN sign is reprinted.
To be honest, the messages and campaigning work that Jo Cox delivered will live on far past this referendum campaign. As well as getting people talking more about care of the mentally ill, it will hopefully raise awareness of the causes she was working on, but it should also raise particular awareness of one of her most poignant causes in this particular case, that of loneliness. I actually hope people still vote on the issues before them at this referendum, because it is a 50 year decision which should be based upon what people actually feel about being in the EU. But this Black Swan may be a particularly strong one.